Windsor, VA – The U.S. Army officer whose traffic stop by Virginia police has resulted in the termination of one officer is a family member of the late Eric Garner, who died as he was being arrested by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers in 2014.
The incident occurred on Dec. 5, 2020 when Winsor Police Department officers stopped U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario in his newly-purchased Chevrolet Tahoe for not having license plates, CBS News reported.
Bodycam video showed temporary license plates were displayed on the inside of the SUV’s rear window, but the windows were tinted so the temporary tags weren’t immediately visible.
Nazario said in a lawsuit that was filed on April 2 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk that he was on his way home from a drill weekend when he saw police lights flashing behind his vehicle, The New York Times reported.
He said he continued driving for about a mile to stop at a gas station because he was afraid to stop on the dark road.
Bodycam video showed that after Nazario stopped his vehicle, police ordered him to step out of the SUV with their weapons drawn.
Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker wrote in the police report that he thought the driver was “eluding police” and considered it a “high-risk traffic stop,” WTOP reported.
“Get out of the car,” one officer yelled in the video.
The video showed Nazario stuck his hands out of the driver’s window but refused to get out of his vehicle.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario told the officers when two of them approached his driver’s side.
“Yeah,” Windsor Police Officer Joe Gutierrez replied in the video. “You should be.”
Nazario, who is a member of the U.S. Army Medical Corps, was wearing his uniform when he was stopped, the bodycam showed.
“I’m serving this country and this is how I’m treated?” Nazario asked the officers. “What’s going on?”
“What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son,” Officer Gutierrez yelled, according to The New York Times.
Nazario’s lawsuit alleged the officer was referring to the electric chair. The phrase “ride the lightning” is common police slang for being tased.
Officers deployed pepper spray in Nazario’s face through the open car window, the bodycam showed.
Nazario began crying and cursing and followed commands to get out of his vehicle.
“What are you? A specialist? Corporal? What are you?” Officer Gutierrez yelled in the video.
“I’m a lieutenant,” Nazario replied calmly.
Then bodycam showed the officers grabbed the man and by his arms and took him to the ground.
Nazario’s lawsuit accused the officers of excessive force and civil rights violations, The New York Times reported.
Windsor police officials announced Sunday that Officer Gutierrez had been fired after an internal investigation had determined that the officer violated department policy.
Nazario’s cousin told The Washington Post he was shocked when he saw the video of the lieutenant’s traffic stop.
Charles Welch, cousin of the late Eric Garner, said he couldn’t believe it when he saw his wife’s younger cousin’s face in the video of the incident.
Welch’s wife, Raquel, helped him raise Nazario and considered him a nephew.
Raquel said that when Nazario came home for her father’s funeral in February, he mentioned the traffic stop but none of the gory details associated with it, The Washington Post reported.
When the video went viral, Garner’s family members were shocked.
Raquel said Nazario grew up around the corner from Garner in Brooklyn and considered him an uncle, The Washington Post reported.
Garner’s last words as he was being arrested for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner were the “I can’t breathe” phrase that Black Lives Matter immortalized.
Raquel told The Washington Post that after she called Nazario to tell him about Garner’s death seven years ago, she warned him to stay calm and comply if he were ever stopped by police.
Family members said that the calm demeanor the Army lieutenant displayed during the traffic stop was typical behavior for him.
“That demeanor is who he is all the time,” Raquel said. “That’s just who he is.”
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said Nazario had the same poise as a little boy and said she thought that was what kept him alive when he was stopped by Windsor police, The Washington Post reported.
“I really thank God that it ended up the way it did because if he had stopped in that dark place, I’m sure they would have taken his life,” Carr said. “I’m so glad he drove and he got to that gas station.”
Nazario grew up obsessed with Raquel’s father’s Vietnam War stories and enlisted in the Army as a combat medic after two years of college, The Washington Post reported.
He returned to Virginia State University in the ROTC program and graduated as an officer.
In December of 2016, Nazario was commissioned into the Virginia National Guard as an Army Health Services Administration officer, The Washington Post reported.
A National Guard spokesman said Nazario served as part of the Guard’s pandemic response in 2020 and was activated on Jan. 6 to serve on the medical staff at the central command center following the Capitol riot.
Raquel said Nazario recently learned he may be deployed to Afghanistan later this year and said the family was concerned given the recent, experience with police, The Washington Post reported.
But she said he had no plans to try to sit out the deployment.